The kids are out of school, and you’ve had a few weeks to chill out. And you have the rest of the summer to relax. Right? Well, yes and no. I’ve found that without the everyday stress of school, my son’s anxiety is way lower. So, what better time to work on social skills, life skills, and basic manners? I know, I can hear the collective groan, “But it’s summer!” Well, Temple Grandin’s got my back on this one; manners are important for special needs kids too.
As always, it’s up to the parent or caregiver to model proper behavior, so remember that road rage is being watched!
Utilize Outings To Get Summer Social Skills
Does your child love to swim? Summer is the perfect time to go to a water park, the lake, a beach, or a community pool. Whatever your water destination is, plan on a few social interactions and help your child through them depending on where they are in their social development.
Perhaps if you’re staying in a hotel, it can be their job to ask the pool attendant for towels. Or if you’re at the beach, prompt them to allow other kids to join in the sandcastle building.
Everyday Social Exchanges
1. Greetings and departures can be difficult for some people on the spectrum. I’m constantly asking my son to say, “Hello,” when guests arrive, and he’s pretty social. We also work on leaving, which often includes saying, “Thank you for coming” and “It was nice having you.” Sounds simple right? Those of you with kids on the spectrum like me, know these exchanges are anything but simple! When we practice them constantly, they become easier with time and become a habit. A good habit.
But don’t be annoying about it or all hope is lost. I can’t stand there and parrot to my son, “Say hello. Say hello!” or he is going to withdraw. Maybe a quick reminder to say Hello after the doorbell rings, but before the door has been opened. Or I’ll say to my son when we’re not in earshot of anyone else, “Did you say hello? I didn’t hear you.” And usually he’ll get mad, but then he does remember to say it louder. Sometimes I think he says it in his head and doesn’t realize that it didn’t come out his mouth. It’s helpful to make him aware, without badgering.
2. Requesting what they need politely.
Your kids are always going to have to ask for what they need. Whether it be for a doctor’s appointment, a product, or to attend an event; whatever the situation may be, they will need to be able to ask for it. And we all know, asking for things politely gets you a lot further and usually faster as well. Having this skill will carry over into the school system, as well as any community you’re involved in. Give them the gift of asking for what they would like, and this may be on a device or any form of communication your child responds best too.
3. Articulating a problem they are having.
If only things would always run smoothly, but they don’t. If your child is in pain or discomfort, they need to be able to tell their teacher, or doctor, or you! And if they get frustrated easily, it may become harder to articulate the problem they’re having. This applies to little things like a purchase is not satisfactory, or a meal is incorrect. They need to be able to communicate when their world falls apart, no matter how small or big, and try to fix matters. When they understand that they will be heard, and that some problems are solved, it become easier for them to express what is going with them. Think big picture things like bullies, and immediate things like having to go to the restroom with a broken zipper.
More Ideas on Where to Practice
Does your child want a particular item? Did they see a commercial and are now begging for the new layered Popsicle? Perhaps they can find it on their own, or ask a store clerk for assistance. And allow them to purchase the item either with cash, or your credit card. This is also a great place for your child to learn about returns. Have a bag of fruit that was rotten when you opened it? Or a margarita machine that defunct need to go back to Costco? Knowing how to do returns is almost as important as making a purchase.
Some kids find these interactions with adult employees easier than engaging with their peers. Adults are usually more predictable, and employees are supposed to be cordial, so the possibility for success is higher. So, they’re getting social skills and life skills in one!
Ordering is always a challenge. My picky eater has requests and questions, and often his order arrives wrong (or wrong to him). So, he’s gotten pretty good at slowing down, and saying what he wants in a clear voice (not mumbling), and making sure the waiter heard his requests. He’ll even get a please and thank you in there sometimes. If you child doesn’t like this type of interaction, start small. Maybe they just order their drink first. Or maybe dessert. You can always get more when they want something in return, right!?!
We couldn’t go to the park for years if it was busy. And by busy, I mean if there were ANY other kids there. My son would have a panic attack and we’d leave till it was “safe” for him to play by himself. But now, he will go with his little brother and play, even if he doesn’t interact with anyone else, he can tolerate it with his brother and be happy.
For the little ones, park politics are huge. Just like the playground. Who’s shovel is who’s? Whose turn is it on the slide? Who threw sand? It can be a madhouse to navigate, so you may have to stay close and help your child interact with kids until they can do it on their own. Oh, a wince, not wanting to be the hovering mom! I know, I know, but it’s part of our job to model to our children how these social exchanges work. Some kids will want nothing to do with you and your child, and others will enjoy the mom interaction and be curious about your child, who may be different from what they’re used to. So, mom’s get in there and get some sand in your toes. You can reward yourself with a margarita later.
Kids are usually motivated to want to see a movie, as long as they don’t have too many sensory concerns. You can have your child pay for the tickets, purchase the popcorn, and let them pick your seats. Empowering kids motivates them to keep making progress and spread their wings. Sometimes it takes a new Marvel Comic’s movie to do this!
If your child has a friend coming over, or is going to a friends house. You may give them a few reminders before hand, but don’t ruin their fun by correcting their every move. If you’re the facilitator and keeping the meeting going, suggesting games, putting food out, etc., great, but don’t be a drag and make it into an obvious therapy session. These kids need to bond on their own. Especially if they’re 12 and older.
I can’t even tell you how many summer week long camps we have signed my son up for that he hasn’t attended. He refused to enter his magic camp, though he was obsessed with magic at the time. And he only last five minutes of cooking camp. We didn’t even make it in the door for Karate camp. My point is, keep trying. Eventually, he slowly ventured into and excelled in gymnastics camp. Go figure! And we have FOUR camps we may (or may not) be trying this summer. It’s a take it day-by-day kind of thing for us.
If your child loves camps, these are the best play for social skills; all the other kids and the camp counselors are usually the best at facilitating fun. Have your tried any summer camps?
Ending note: While I try everything, I don’t believe in forcing kids to do what they’re not comfortable doing. Observe if it’s a can’t or a won’t behavior. What’s the stress level? Is this helping or causing them more harm in the long wrong? Remember that social skills are a marathon, not a sprint. To last, there needs to be constant and repetitive practice in a safe environment.
I’d love to hear anyone else’s suggestions on summer social skills.
I hope you are enjoying your summer! Jackie